On the sport that is bigger than life

For every speed that a bee flies at it might fly at 80mph. A pitcher throws a hard fastball while spinning furiously. David Ortiz performs a unique baseball manoeuvre, tagging out a runner at home. The Bee has blossom blossoms, the pitcher has a curveball, the Stealer might blast a homerun. And there is a Catch as well, and a Catch II.

How can we explain the nature of hockey, pitching, pitching and moving on? The Queen’s University sports medicine researcher who lived here and took those questions to Toronto has a theory.

“Today’s game is all about moving quickly, delivering the ball quickly,” Bruce Arthur told me by phone a few weeks ago from his office.

Kieran Moore, former president of Ontario’s Ministry of Sport and Recreation and an ex-OHL coach and senior hockey executive, fell ill in March as he gave a speech on a healthy sports culture at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. He died that September, shortly after Ontario’s academic year had ended. But his new research, to be published this fall, was just as informative as his teaching.

So I went to see Dr. Moore.

A public servant by temperament, he thinks of sports with belief. And when he talks, the secret lives of sports teams and clubs, structured ever since the sport erupted in 1871, come out.

“I’ve lived for three years now with this particular question – how the brains work in fast-twitch athletes,” he said. “It goes deeper than the theory. It goes back to why we play. It goes back to why we get out of bed in the morning.

“There’s a common thread that connects us. We all came through living off the land, and that’s what we’re doing in Ontario. And that rich, rich running history, there’s no end to it. And it’s running right into our daily lives, from children to 95-year-olds.

“It does run into our research. And it’s the science of effort. It’s the science of brain plasticity, which means a positive change in your nervous system. If you exercise your brain, it’s like electricity changing the brain. It changes it in two ways: it changes its temperature, which affects oxygen levels. And that temperature change affects its size.”

Moore, whose office overlooks the Toronto basketball arena where the De La Salle, Nazareth and University of Toronto all play, speaks a language the humble sports doctor Bruce Arthur could never know. A guy in second gear, his passion now in human physiology, Moore knows that there are no two cases of fast-twitch activity and muscle power the same. Moore thinks about people. That strikes a chord in the pie-eyed imagination.

He worries, too, that of his findings, most will be about big, strong boys and girls playing the game, that it will blow over as “cookie-cutter”.

“It will probably be right up the canyon level,” he predicted. “Who’s interested in fast-twitch movement? I can’t tell you. I can’t predict the future, but my gut tells me it’s going to stay.”

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